Feb 13, 2009

SALTWATER-CROCODILE TEARS

KOROR, Palau – In the helicopter tour office, I'm roboting through liability forms. "Hey, there's Ron!" someone notes.

"Ron Leidich?" my head snaps up. "I've been trying to track him down for months." A biologist and outfitter, Ron's a driving force behind Paddling Palau, along with his wife Leticia Sicat-Leidich. "I've seen a journalist cry because he spent weeks here and couldn't corner Ron," she teases. "You're a lucky lady."

Yes, I am. My paparazzied source strolls in and bear-hugs me, though it's been 18 months or so since we met briefly. "Amanda! I have an unsupported wilderness paddle expedition leaving in 30 hours. Game?"

Natch.

That's the way of Micronesia. Things ... sort out. But they take time and a strange triangulation of fate, hustle and goodwill: a formula – laced with wild beauty – quite distinct to Palau.

I read as much as I can about the area's customs. How the people innovate wildly and welcome expats, but also how they have clung to a rare freedom of speech, which preserved traditions beyond the usual sell-by date.

As anthropologist R.E. Johannes noted in 1981: “harsh criticism or 'words of the lagoon,' (tekei l'choi) may be hurled by man or boy of any rank at anyone, chief included, whose efforts do not measure up on the fishing grounds. No one may express offense at being scolded under such conditions. Thus has excellence in fishing been preserved for centuries.”

These people know a good thing: new or old.

As do I.

So I cast off for the Rock Islands in a closed-shell kayak.

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